Who Are These Impudent Women, Non-Consumers of British Goods?

in by Warren

Author: Joseph Warren signatory and possible co-author

“Boston 31.st 1769.

We the subscribers Inhabitants of the Town of Boston being desirous to concur with the Merchants and Traders of said Town in their late laudable Agreement not to import any of the Manufactures of Great Britain, do hereby faithfully promise and engage that we will abide by the following Resolutions

First.  That we will not, either by ourselves or any for or under us purchase any Goods whatever from any person who have or may Import any of said Manufactures contrary to the Spirit of said Agreement.

Secondly.  That we will not, either by ourselves or any for or under us purchase any of such Manufactures from any Factors who now do or hereafter upon the same for Sale.

Thirdly   We are determined to assist the said Merchants and Traders in any further Measures that may be taken for the better carrying their Resolutions into Execution.

In testimony of all which we have hereinto set our Names…

[111 signatures follow, among them John Scollay, Harbottle Dorr, Miles Whitworh, Joseph Warren, six women [Eliza Clark, Eliza: Nowell, Mary Hunt, Eliz:a Greenleaf, Elizabeth (illegible) and Mary Alexander], Paul Revere, William Dawes, John Griffith, Edward Jarvis, Samuel Minott.]”

Source:  Non Consumption Agreement, Mss Large 1769 July 31, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society

Commentary:  I and previous biographers believe that Joseph Warren was a leader among Boston Sons of Liberty in organizing boycotts of British goods.  The most notable such example is the controversial Solemn League and Covenant, initiated by the Boston Committee of Correspondence in June of 1774; and aspects of the September 1774 Suffolk Resolves.  This July 1769 non-consumption agreement is an early effort, paralleling a contemporaneous merchants’ non-importation pledge. Joseph Warren’s agency, other than his signing on, is unclear from this document.

Other signatures raise intriguing questions about individuals’ views on post-Townshend Duty boycotts at this juncture, as well as relationships among one another.  Six women signed, five of  them clustered together. Was the Elizabeth, whose last name is now illegible, Mrs . Elizabeth Hooton Warren, Dr. Warren’s spouse? (Mrs. Warren’s signature is on a 1770 mortgage document, so handwriting comparison can be helpful in answering this question. Alas, Elizabeth is a common name). Were these women acting on behalf of their individual households, or did commercial activities such as clothing and textile production provide clout to feminine participation in non-consumption?

John Scollay, a Boston selectman and the father of Warren’s future fiancée Miss Mercy Scollay, is high on the list of signatories. Harbottle Dorr, whose annotated newspapers are a favorite source for scholars, makes a rare appearance here. Paul Revere and William Dawes, of later Midnight Ride fame, count themselves in.

Miles Whitworth’s signature, if he is one and the same as Boston physician Dr. Miles Whitworh, is curious. Whitworh is usually thought of as a Loyalist whose account of the Boston Tea Party meetings is a primary source for scholars and aficionados of that 1773 event.  Joseph Warren, writing in newspapers as Philo Physic back in 1767, had aggressively defended Dr. Whitworh in a medical malpractice controversy impugning the abilities of Dr. Thomas Young.  Young became a Boston Son of Liberty insider and political colleague of Warren’s in the early 1770s. According to an unsympathetic British newspaper account [Gazateer and New Daily Advertiser of January 19, 1775, as reprinted in Margaret Wheeler Willard’s Letters on the American Revolution 1774-1776, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925], Dr. Whitworth’s 16 year old son had thrashed Dr. Young for insulting his father in print.

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